I have been giving this experience a lot of thought. I am not sure that I have truly given enough consideration to the impact a life changing illness can have on the survivor's friends.
One of the topics that comes up regularly at my Stroke Recovery groups is how social relations have been affected by stroke. After a stroke a person experience so many changes that in many ways he, or she, is not the person they once were. Even someone who has a full recovery will have experienced a trauma that leaves him changed forever. He will never again feel quite so safe and invincible - he becomes aware of his own mortality.
If you have physical and cognitive issues you need to learn how to negotiate basic life skills in your home, neighbour hood and world once again. These changes affect your social life. Can you still be friends with the people you worked with if you no longer go to work? How about your your ability to enjoy the companionship of people with whom you shared sport activities? If you have some cognitive issues, or are unable to talk fluently, how many of your friends are going to want to chat on the phone with you? Limited energy reserves make even simple tasks exhausting so how can you find the energy to go out with a friend for coffee? Perhaps you will be embarrassed when you do go out if you need assistance to use a bathroom. What if you need help cutting your food? What will your friends think if you look different now?
Many survivors find themselves leading lives where their outings revolve around doctors visits and rehab sessions. They become increasingly isolated in their own homes and their social circles becomes smaller and smaller. Isolation comes with increase risk of depression and poorer life choices that can affect their physical health even further, never mind the quality of life.
I lost some people from my life over the past few years. A few friends and acquaintances did not have hope that I would have any real recovery. They more or less wrote me off and got on with their own lives. I have spent a long time thinking that I had learned who my real friends were but perhaps what I was seeing was not their lack of interest in me. Maybe what I was witnessing was their own fear and vulnerability and inability to cope with the changes in me. Perhaps they were seeing, reflected in me, their own mortality. Maybe I am the one who needs to learn to be more compassionate.
I can't begin to express my gratitude for all the wonderful people that are in my life.